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Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield

Overview

Early in the Civil War control of the state of Missouri hung in the balance.  Union and Confederate forces gathered near Springfield and both organized surprise attacks for the morning of August 10, 1861.  Rain overnight caused Confederate General Sterling Price to cancel his plan, but Union General Nathaniel Lyon went through with his in the face of overwhelming odds.  The strategy worked briefly but cost Lyon his life.  Even though the Union army retreated that day, seven months later they prevailed during the Battle of Pea Ridge in northern Arkansas, successfully keeping Missouri in the Union. 

Highlights

Museum, film, driving tour, Ray House, cannons

Must-Do Activity

Missouri stayed in the Union throughout the war despite the $10-million in property damage caused by guerrilla fighters, making it the third most fought-over state.  Start your visit by watching a short film, then peruse the excellent museum before taking the five-mile driving route that provides an overview of the battle at eight interpretive stops.  The paved road is heavily used by locals for jogging and biking, so drive carefully.

Best Trail

A portion of the infamous Trail of Tears crosses through this park following the route of the telegraph wire south towards Elkhorn Tavern in Arkansas’ Pea Ridge National Military Park.  There are also hiking and equestrian trails through the park’s 1,926 acres.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Rebuilt at its original location, there is a reconstruction of the Ray House, which was used as a Confederate hospital.  Nearby split-rail fences add to the bucolic ambiance.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/wicr/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Paved, but gate closes tour road exactly at 5 p.m.

Camping

Within five miles there is a private campground near Interstate-44, plus a variety of state parks within an hour’s drive.

Related Sites

Pea Ridge National Military Park (Arkansas)

Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site (Missouri)

George Washington Carver National Monument (Missouri)

Explore More – How many Union soldiers were buried in the sinkhole near Totten’s Battery on Bloody Hill (then in 1867 were moved to a National Cemetery in Springfield)?

Manassas National Battlefield Park

Overview

The first major confrontation of the Civil War occurred on July 21, 1861 at Bull Run Creek near Manassas, Virginia.  Due to its proximity to Washington, D.C., civilians drove their carriages down to picnic and watch the spectacle of 34,000 men trying to kill each other.  It was on Henry Hill that Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson earned his nickname when he refused to flee in the face of a Union advance.  In the north it was known as the Battle of Bull Run and run they did when Confederate reinforcements arrived to take the field.  The next year there was another fight here, which the southern army also won on its march north before being turned back at Antietam.

Highlights

Museum, film, “Stonewall” Jackson statue, cannons, Stone House

Must-Do Activity

As with other battlefield sites, Manassas National Battlefield Park has a National Park Service (NPS) visitor center with a movie, maps, driving tour, and hiking trails.  Start in the museum, as the fiber-optic maps with recorded narration are one of the best ways to understand the events of each battle.  The first of the two Battles of Bull Run took place around the visitor center on Henry Hill.  The second battle was spread across the landscape and is the focus of the 18-mile driving tour.

Best Trail

Cannons line the one-mile hiking trail on Henry Hill, where one of the first civilian casualties of the Civil War occurred in a house that was rebuilt in 1870 and still stands.

Instagram-worthy Photo

General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson earned his nickname at the first battle at Manassas.  We understand that Confederate statues are justifiably controversial, but this is one place that they actually belong.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/mana/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Exercise caution as the 18-mile driving tour goes through residential areas with a couple unpaved roads.

Camping

There is not an NPS campground, but nearby Bull Run Regional Park has 150 sites with RV hookups.

Related Sites

Antietam National Battlefield (Maryland)

Fredericksbug and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park (Virginia)

Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park (Virginia)

Explore More – What state has a memorial to its troops on the spot where 123 men were killed in five minutes on August 30, 1862 (which was the greatest loss of life in any single infantry regiment in a Civil War battle)?

Fort Sumter National Monument

Overview

Located at the entrance to the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, a group of defensive forts have gone through many permutations since the 1770s.  The most famous, the five-sided Fort Sumter was still unfinished (after 30 years of construction) when South Carolina became the first state to secede from the United States on December 20, 1860.  This led Major Robert Anderson to flee Fort Moultrie with 85 Union troops for Fort Sumter, which Confederates fired at on April 12, 1861, marking the first shot of the Civil War.  Fort Sumter is only accessible by ferry, but you can drive a car to the National Park Service (NPS) museum at Fort Moultrie, commemorated on the U.S. quarter-dollar coin minted in 2016.

Highlights

Museum, Fort Moultrie, Fort Sumter, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

Fort Sumter was built upon a sandbar in Charleston Harbor, raised and leveled with 70,000 tons of granite brought down from New England.  A toll ferry takes visitors to the island from downtown Charleston or Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum.   Dolphins, pelicans, and shore birds are commonly spotted on the 40-minute ferry ride to Fort Sumter.  Destroyed by the end of the Civil War, the fort today looks nothing like it did back then, having gone through multiple upgrades before it was deactivated in 1947.  At the site, the NPS displays cannons representing each era alongside interpretive signs.

Best Trail

A walk through Fort Moultrie explains its 170 years of military use before it became part of Fort Sumter National Monument in 1948.  Constructed on Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina, Fort Moultrie was not yet finished when a British attack was repelled on June 28, 1776 at the beginning of the Revolutionary War.  After being destroyed during the Civil War, it saw new life during World War I with the placement of disappearing rifles and World War II with anti-aircraft guns. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

Major Robert Anderson surrendered and lowered the U.S. flag on April 14, 1861, though there were no casualties during the bombardment.  After rifled cannons had reduced the fort’s walls to rubble, Major Anderson raised the exact same flag above Fort Sumter four years later to-the-date near the end of the Civil War. 

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/fosu/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$10 per person to visit Fort Moultrie (or America the Beautiful pass); charge for passenger ferry to Fort Sumter but no NPS fee

Road Conditions

Free parking at Fort Moultrie, but pay parking for the ferry from Liberty Square in downtown Charleston or Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum.

Camping

None

Related Sites

Fort Pulaski National Monument (Georgia)

Charles Pinckney National Historic Site (South Carolina)

Congaree National Park (South Carolina)

Explore More – Who was the famous Native American chief who died of scarlet fever as a prisoner at Fort Moutlrie in 1838?

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Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

Overview

Robert Harper started ferrying folks across the Potomac River at this site in 1747.  It had a strategic location at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers where the point of what is now the state of West Virginia meets the border of Maryland and Virginia.  Harpers Ferry is most famous for the 1859 raid led by abolitionist John Brown of Kansas in attempt to seize the federal armory to incite a slave rebellion.  His trial and execution for treason helped foment the Civil War, during which conflict the town changed hands between the two sides an astounding eight times!

Highlights

Historic buildings, museums, Jefferson Rock, Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

A portion of the town today is run as a series of museums by the National Park Service (NPS), though other parts remain open for business as restaurants, shops, and inns.  Parking is limited in town, so the NPS runs a shuttle (free with parking fee) two miles from their visitor center.

Best Trail

You can hike into town on the 2,185-mile Appalachian Trail that cuts right through the buildings and over the footbridge across the Potomac River.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Jefferson Rock is located just up the hill from town, named for Thomas Jefferson who visited in 1783.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/hafe/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$20 to park at NPS visitor center or free with America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

There is limited parking in town so it is easier to take a shuttle from the NPS visitor center.

Camping

There are multiple private campgrounds in the area, as well as Maryland’s Gambrill State Park.

Related Sites

Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)

Fort Scott National Historic Site (Kansas)

New River Gorge National River (West Virginia)

Explore More – Which famous member of the Corps of Discovery visited the national armory in Harpers Ferry in 1803 before heading to the Pacific Ocean?

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Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site

Overview

In a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri is the antebellum plantation (White Haven) of Ulysses S. Grant.  Following his graduation from West Point in 1843, Lieutenant Grant was stationed at nearby Jefferson Barracks.  It was while visiting his former roommate at White Haven that he met Fred Dent’s sister, Julia.  Grant would eventually marry her and together they raised their children here from 1854-59, following his resignation from the U.S. Army.  The family intended to return to the plantation following the Civil War, but Grant’s two terms as President did not allow that to happen.

Highlights

Museum, film, historic house, cannons

Must-Do Activity

A thorough museum housed in the former horse stables provides days’ worth of reading on this controversial General and President.  Opposing arguments are posted around the stables allowing visitors to answer tough questions like, Was Grant a butcher? and Was Grant a corrupt politician?  Access inside the house requires a free guided tour given regularly throughout the day by National Park Service (NPS) rangers.

Best Trail

There is a short walking tour on the ten-acre NPS property.  The neighboring wildlife park named Grant’s Farm (admission fee) contains a log cabin built by Grant in 1855.

Instagram-worthy Photo

During our visit in early April, the redbud trees were in bloom.  Plus, there are cannons to pose with.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/ulsg/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm

Fees

None, but a free guided tour (tickets required) is the only way to enter the main house

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

None at the site, but several private campgrounds nearby.

Related Sites

General Grant National Memorial (New York)

Ozark National Scenic Riverways (Missouri)

Gateway Arch National Park (Missouri)

Explore More – Did the family have slaves at White Haven?